Wizard jokes and Ted Leo: The A.V. Club goes to Chicago’s Wicker Park Fest

Wizard jokes and Ted Leo: The A.V. Club goes to Chicago’s Wicker Park Fest

Though the weather recalled the epically cloudy Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene in Ghostbusters (or an average day in San Francisco), annual Chicago summer slammer Wicker Park Fest—expanded this year to 40 bands across three stages—hit the city’s Milwaukee Avenue corridor with a strong musical lineup, actual plastic buckets of filled with cheese fries, and no fewer than one metric ton of straw fedoras. The A.V. Club hit the streets where the sound was surprisingly decent and the BMI-to-crop-top ratio was unsurprisingly unsightly. 

Strongest ’90s fashion display: Sorry, every woman in Doc Martens, a crop top, and a nose ring. You lose. The best ’90s fashion showing at this fest was during the Meat Puppets, where no one was younger than 30 and someone was passing a bowl disguised as an asthma inhaler. The SST legends deftly executed their cow-punk classics, and a rapt audience brought the most impressive curly ponytail-to-flannel shirt ratio seen since the first Dinosaur Jr. reunion in the mid aughts. An honorable mention goes to the random guy keeping it real in the Sinead O’Connor “Gospel Oak Tour ’97” shirt.

Most boners per square foot: Whimsical local theater troupe RedMoon has a reputation for staging wacky stunts throughout the city. This weekend, that stunt involved dangling a female aerialist in a hoop from a crane over a crowd full of drunken guys in fedoras and Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe T-shirts. Also, she was wearing only a leotard. It was sort of like trying to fight a pack of wolves with a corn dog.

Best holder of the torch for the suburban Chicago emo sound: Describing itself as a band “from just down the street,” Their/They’re/There boasts a trio of legacy emo names including Mike “American Football and Owen” Kinsella behind the kit. The band’s mix of anthemic hooks and Polyvinyl Records-circa-1998 time signatures still works today, oddly. (Related: The band is signed to Polyvinyl Records.) And the new crop of grandpa-sweater-wearing kids clung to the group’s every earnest word.

Winning candidate for the next incarnation of Guitar Hero: Delicate Steve was the sleeper hit of Saturday—largely due to the otherworldly slide-style shredding of the band’s namesake, founder Steve Marion. Though the band had the cooperation of both the weather (it wasn’t freezing yet) and the sound system (which, sadly, didn’t cooperate very well during Man Man) it was the magical songs from his Luaka Bop debut Positive Force that had the crowd mesmerized. 

Fastest teleport to another festival: Teenage Bottlerocket. Scissor-kick jumps! Other pop-punk histronics! Warped Tour ’96!

Most shameless opportunists: To the group of college students in the swanky loft who hurled armload after armload of those blinky, promotional foam pool noodles during Man Man’s packed set—bravo! You successfully advertised whatever cool new app you were attempting to pimp and simultaneously provided weapons for all the drunk people not watching Man Man but standing in front of the stage taking up oxygen anyway. The six-piece Man Man played hard, but the sound was spotty and only those pressed up against the stage got to hear all of the instruments. From where I was standing the percussion and vocals were great, and the sound issues didn’t stop anyone from singing along to “Engrish Bwudd.”

The time Ted Leo pulled one over on everybody: It’s perplexing to me that Ted Leo chose to headline a fairly mindless, deep-fried Chicago street festival—what with his smart, bleak outlook and vegan lifestyle. Maybe it’s just another good opportunity to stare into the meaningless void for socio-political songwriting inspiration? Regardless, the guy puts up a good front onstage. “This is my favorite Goldfinger song,” said the guy next to me during Leo’s sonic attack. To which his friend immediately responded, “I love that movie!”

Most wizard jokes heard at a street festival: Legacy Memphis garage outfit The Reigning Sound and Austin psych legend Roky Erickson played stellar back-to-back sets. Erickson even ended with the 13th Floor Elevators classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” But what I heard were a lot of yuks about old wizards and, more cleverly, “beardless Gandalf” and “fat Gandalf.” Ageism in America: Ted Leo, let’s discuss.

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